Ehrlichiosis disease in dogs

Help protect Territory dogs

Ehrlichiosis has been confirmed in the Northern Territory (NT).

All dog owners should follow the advice below.

Ehrlichiosis is a disease spread by the brown dog tick. It primarily affects dogs. It can result in death if not properly treated.

In very rare cases, infected ticks may infect people. Infections in people are usually easy to treat. To date, there have not been any cases of ehrlichiosis diagnosed in people in the NT.

Dog owners should have their dogs on a tick control program, regularly check their dogs for ticks and be on the lookout for signs of the disease.

How it is spread

Dogs become infected with the bacteria Ehrlichia canis after being bitten by an infected brown dog tick. The brown dog tick is widely distributed worldwide and is present in northern Australia, including all of the NT.

Ehrlichiosis is now established in the NT brown dog tick population, and all dogs are at risk of infection.

Infected dogs do not transmit ehrlichiosis to people. In very rare cases, infected ticks may infect people.

Read more about the human health impacts of ticks on the Government of Western Australia's Department of Health website.

Symptoms

Symptoms of ehrlichiosis infection in dogs can include:

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • swelling of chest or front legs
  • cloudy eyes or conjunctivitis
  • pain and stiffness
  • bleeding disorders such as nosebleeds or bruising on the gums or belly.

How to protect your dog

The following will protect your dogs from ehrlichiosis.

  • Have your dogs on a tick control program. Tick collars and spot-ons that repel and kill ticks are the best primary protection. These can be used in combination with tablets and chews registered for tick control in high risk situations. Speak to your vet about the best products for your dog.
  • Have any tick infestations in your house or yard managed by a pest controller.
  • Avoid taking your dogs into tick-infested areas. If this is unavoidable, use effective tick control products and inspect your dogs daily for ticks. Run your fingers through your pet’s coat over their skin, feeling for abnormal bumps. Pay particular attention to the head, neck, ears, chest, between their toes and around their mouths and gums.
  • Contact your vet if you find ticks on your dog and are concerned about the risk of ehrlichiosis. Brown dog ticks do not bury their heads under the skin and can be safely pulled off when you find them.
  • Be on the lookout for signs of ehrlichiosis, such as fever, lethargy and appetite loss.

When to see a vet

You must seek veterinary attention immediately if your pet is showing signs of ehrlichiosis, such as fever, lethargy and weight loss.

Other tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis have similar symptoms to ehrlichiosis. These diseases are also present in the NT so it is important to seek veterinary advice and treatment.

If you find a tick on your dog, contact your vet for tick control treatment options.

Protecting your dog in the community

If your dog has contact with other dogs in your community, such as through kennels or dog groups, you should make sure that vaccinations and tick, flea and worm treatments are up to date.

Boarding your dog

Check that your your local boarding kennel have strong disease prevention measures in place to prevent movement of ticks between kennels and dogs.

Dogs with known or suspected infectious diseases should not be boarded. Use tick control products that kill and repel ticks for all dogs in boarding kennels.

Travelling with dogs

Travelling with dogs can increase exposure to many infectious diseases.

Avoid contact with other dogs when making stops along your journey, such as at fuel stations, truck stops or caravan parks. This will help to avoid ehrlichiosis transmission between dogs by the brown dog tick.

If your dog gets sick when travelling, tell your veterinarian where you went and when.

Social group dog activities

Participating in social group dog activities can also increase exposure to many infectious diseases.

Vaccinate your dog according to your vet’s directions before participating in social activities with other dogs or attending public spaces where dogs mingle. Always use an effective tick repellent product on your dog to prevent ticks attaching.

Inspect dogs for ticks after being in potentially tick-infested areas (especially around the neck, head, ears, armpits and belly) and carefully remove any ticks. Your vet can advise on the best methods of tick removal.

Adopting or purchasing a dog

If you are adopting or purchasing a new dog, ask if it has been tested for ehrlichiosis.

Rehoming organisations should provide advice about:

  • the dog’s history
  • where it has come from
  • if it has been tested or treated for ehrlichiosis or not.

Ask your vet for advice about the risks of adopting dogs that have, or have had ehrlichiosis.

A bite from a single tick is enough to transmit the disease.

Puppies and adult dogs are equally at risk of infection.

Treatment

If your dog has been diagnosed with ehrlichiosis, it is important you follow the treatment plan recommended by your vet.

This includes completing the course of antibiotics prescribed. Early antibiotic treatment provides the best chance of recovery.

In some cases very sick dogs may need supportive care and hospitalisation.

Don't move your dog

Don’t move your dog away from your town or community until it is recovered and it’s treatment is finished.

Treat your home and yard

Controlling ticks in your environment is important to break the transmission cycle of the disease. Speak with a professional pest controller about treating your home.

Ticks can live in cracks and crevices around your house and yard, around kennels, and inside skirting boards, window and door frames. They can survive for many months without feeding.

Report the disease

If you suspect your dog is showing signs of the disease, you should report it to your local veterinarian and seek testing and treatment as quickly as possible.

Dogs that are treated soon after infection usually have better outcomes.

More information

Choose from the following information.

Guidelines for veterinarians

Veterinarians managing suspected or confirmed cases of ehrlichiosis should read:

Information sheets

Get the print-friendly A3 information sheets:

Posters

Use the following A3 posters to share information about ehrlichiosis prevention and symptoms:


Last updated: 22 April 2022

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